Building your social marketing skills

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases...

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.

Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases and feedback should be directed to Kirsten at (416) 229-0060 or fax (416) 229-1210.

social marketing is a hot growth area in the Canadian marketing industry today.

Companies are changing the way they handle their corporate accounts.

Rather than simply providing cash donations to non-profit organizations, corporations are now using charitable causes and social issues as the core elements upon which they build full-scale, integrated marketing programs.

While the cause or social issue may be national in reach, programs are typically designed to support relevant social causes or local groups in the communities in which marketers conduct business and in which their employees and customers live.

The following directives are essential for successful social marketing programs:

- Apply a strategic approach. Focus marketing efforts around a cause or social issue that makes strategic business sense. The cause selection should be business-driven and based on its ability to reflect corporate philosophy and meet business objectives.

- Commit long-term. One-time efforts will yield minimum benefits.

- Use research. Confirm through research that the cause selection is relevant to targetted consumer groups.

- Develop strategic alliances. Partnerships among local business, government, educational institutions, charitable organizations and community groups that have a vested interest in the social cause supported by the firm can leverage the corporate/cause relationship and provide greater image benefit.

There are several factors driving the growth of social marketing.

One is the decreasing differentiation between products and services.

Despite the proliferation of new products and services in the marketplace, products and services are increasingly similar.

Product features have become less important and corporate image is playing a bigger role in the buying decision.

The changing attitudes of consumers is a second factor.

The greedy, self-focussed consumer of the 1980s has become the socially responsible consumer of the ’90s, who is more price-sensitive and concerned about quality and value.

Today’s consumer looks beyond the brand to the integrity and ethical behavior of the manufacturer.

Social marketing programs take many forms and can be successful if well-considered, planned and executed.

A good example is Nike’s Participating in the Lives of America’s Youth (play) program.

With Nike’s future dependent on upcoming generations of athletic consumers, play was designed to increase opportunities for youth to participate in local sporting activities.

In some communities, Nike uses recycled shoe soles to resurface basketball courts. In others, it co-ordinates a shuttle service in dangerous neighborhoods to ensure safe access to facilities.

play is supported through a 1-800 number, school communications, and television and print ads with Michael Jordan.

Dufferin Mall, a mid-sized shopping centre in downtown Toronto, has also created a community outreach program.

Local social problems, such as theft, shoplifting and a high teenage dropout rate, were infiltrating the mall and damaging the shopping environment.

Faced with declining shopper traffic, nervous retailers and shoppers, and a deteriorating image, the mall identified areas in which it could help the community.

New youth-targetted programs were developed through partnerships among business, government, educational institutions and community groups.

Examples include the Dufferin Learning Centre, Toronto’s first classroom in a mall; the hiring of a youth worker in conjunction with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and Dufferin Youth Services, an organization consisting of relevant social agencies.

The program’s results have been positive. Negative perceptions of the mall are reversing and store traffic is increasing.

Upcoming events

The 1994 adidas Toronto Invitational, featuring the Georgetown Hoyas versus the Memphis Tigers, will be held Dec. 10 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, marking the first time a regular season ncaa men’s basketball game is played in Toronto.

Other sponsors include Starter Canada, The Game, U.S. College Collection, Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, The Toronto Sun, Toronto sports radio channel The Fan 1430 and tsn.

Limited supporting sponsorships offering hospitality and signage benefits are still available.

For more information, contact Peter Allemang at (416) 599-4200.